The number of communications protocols used in industrial automation is staggering…and still growing. No company can afford to re-engineer or rip out their existing processes every time they add a new machine or want to collect data into their existing network from some legacy device that is still working well but not connected to the network. Re-engineering is not the answer because no matter how careful you are, there will be problems, interruptions and downtime. And downtime does not pay the bills, cover the payroll or produce any profits.
What you need is a plan that will allow you to layer new data communications technology over the top of what you already have. Then you can gradually migrate your existing equipment and devices into your network, providing you with the ability to collect new kinds of data that will increase your profit margin.
You can start your phased migration by deciding and prioritizing what data you really need to collect or measure for your specific operation. Once you have this list you can begin your phased migration. There are numerous protocol gateways on the market today that will allow you to quickly (and cost-effectively) integrate a new machine into your network or collect data from a legacy device. These gateways act as translators from one protocol to another. They are relatively easy to install, and once up and running, they allow your controller to “talk to” devices that speak a different protocol as seamlessly as if the devices were all one network.
Need examples? Let’s say you have a hydro-electric power facility and your network is either the IEC-104 or DNP3 protocols. You need to track alarms and collect data from the new generators, but your controller communicates via Modbus®. This is where adding a stand-alone or in-chassis gateway can increase the functionality, speed, and convenience in your plant for a very low cost. Most importantly, it will give you real-time data so you can make critical decisions and avoid downtime.
If you are in manufacturing, you know that change is a constant of life. Sometimes that change comes in having to reconfigure your line to produce a different size of your product, or you’ve bought the latest packaging equipment but you’re not going to replace all those older bar code scanners. All of these changes can create a tangled mess when it comes to communication. This is another example of how a phased migration can help you achieve your goals. You can leave those bar code scanners where they are for now. Add a protocol interface gateway that will allow all of your equipment, old and new, to play nicely together.
Internet of Things
We all know that everything is going wireless. Industrial plants and processes around the world are embracing wireless. Now, before you start rolling your eyes and stop reading, hear me out. You may be reacting to outdated information, because industrial wireless technology has made great strides. Going wireless can also help you implement your phased migration plan fairly painlessly because it will allow you to integrate your “old” equipment into your network.
Do you have a remote device that someone has to manually go to and collect the data? Two industrial radios can solve that problem for you.
What about your building automation system…Is it connected to your network? Think of the money you could save if you had real-time data on how much and where your energy is being used.
Do you have a hazardous area in your plant? If you could monitor this area remotely with remote video monitoring, you could potentially detect dangerous situations early and contribute to increased workplace safety.
Planning for the Future
As you plan your migration and modernization strategy, the first thing you need to do is to stop adding any more custom, proprietary systems from which it’s hard or impossible to get data. Start small and add interface connectivity gateways where it makes the most sense now, and keep adding as your budget allows.
Learn more about our migration gateways here!